May 172020 48 Responses

Why Can I Go to Wal-Mart and Not Church?

Because of science. That’s why I need to show more caution going to church than I do in going to Wal-Mart amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social media has many benefits, but one place social media struggles (or more accurately, we struggle on social media) is with discernment. It’s a common occurrence for people to post a simple statement contrasting two things with the intent of showing how foolish someone is or evil a political opponent is or useless government is. While people can be foolish, enemies can be evil, and the government can be useless, in most cases, the pithy statement on social media is simply wrong rather than revelatory. (For more on conspiracy theories and Christians, read this editorial by Ed Stetzer.)

Church and Wal-Mart

One current example is the question “Why can I go to Wal-Mart and not a church?” As COVID-19 spread around the U.S. during early 2020, governments made differing recommendations on how to best stop the spread. One directive was a suspension of in-person worship services in most churches across the country. Even with shelter-in-place orders, citizens were still allowed to grocery shop which meant while churches were closed, Wal-Mart was open.

For some, this is an attack on religious liberty. While the government directing the church not to meet is a dicey issue because of the U.S. Constitution, it was a wise move in this case and was not an attack on religious liberty. This is why nearly every church complied. Meeting in-person would have threatened the lives of others, specifically the most vulnerable among us

What’s the difference between church and Wal-Mart? Two things. Obviously we need food. We can go for nine weeks worshiping online, but we can’t go nine weeks without food. People have to buy groceries. But the bigger issue is not food, but science.

Grocery shopping is different than corporate worship. When we shop, we go up and down aisles, moving around people, and then making our way out of the store. However, when we go to church, we sit in a confined space for an hour. When it comes to a respiratory illness, the latter is riskier than the former. Consider this article from a professor of infectious disease and biology.

In the article, the author shows how different activities contain different risks. And she reveals why attending church for the past few months was not wise even as we made our way to Wal-Mart. (Hint: it’s primarily about the duration of time with little air filtration and a good number of people breathing, singing, and possibly sneezing around us as compared to us simply passing by people at the grocery store.)

COVID Conspiracies that Ain’t

The bigger issue isn’t the individual question–why can I go to Wal-Mart and not to church–it is how easily the answer was found. A question posted to mock or belittle decision-makers only achieved its purpose if people failed to research the issue. Not only was the question misleading, but it was also extremely easy to disprove. One Google search shows the disparity makes sense.

This is a current pattern on social media. In nearly every example where someone raises a simple question that seemingly outs the evil intent or intellectual deficiency of someone on the other side of the political aisle, with a little research and discernment, the question can be answered…easily. What seems contradictory actually makes sense. Sometimes life is full of nuance.

Why do they have to wear a mask and I don’t? The question appears to show inequality. Yet, with a little research, you can find that the need for a mask depends on the task at hand. So the butcher needs to wear a mask because as he stands there all day in a small shop, the droplets from his breathing add up creating a risk for customers who come into his store. Whereas a mask isn’t as important when the postman simply pops into the office to deliver the mail.

Why don’t these states have shelter-in-place orders? For weeks this was a question asked about my home state. As charts were shown with increasing cases and deaths nationwide, they were contrasted with a map showing the few states who do not have shelter-in-place orders. The point was to shame the careless leaders in these few states. Yet a little research showed that while COVID-19 was rising exponentially in many places, it wasn’t doing so everywhere. As I write, my county has one active case. One, even though my hometown is the second-largest city in Arkansas.

Why did the CDC reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths? This meme was showing a website showing fewer numbers of death than widely reported. Yet, a little research shows that the website depends on death certificates which can take weeks to produce as compared to other sites which are daily tracking deaths.

Why is the government paying more money for COVID-19 deaths? The implication was that because the government reimburses more money for a COVID-19 death, that hospitals are committing fraud by marking every death as a COVID death. Yet a little research shows that different forms of care receive different reimbursements from Medicare/Medicaid. Because a COVID patient would require more resources, it makes sense the government would reimburse more money.

Question after question posted on social media intended to reveal conspiracy or corruption are actually easily answered with just a bit of effort.

Truth Can Be Found

My favorite example of this social media outrage gone wrong is from several years ago, although I still see it with regularity on Facebook. A meme shows every living American President speaking in front of American flags, except for President Obama who is speaking in front of gold curtains. The meme claims it’s a Muslim prayer curtain. Yet a simple Google search reveals something different–President Obama was speaking in the East Room of the White House which has gold curtains. Why would someone post something so obviously wrong and so easily disproven?

Because it fits their bias. (See: The Ends Don’t Justify the Mean)

We are all biased. We can’t prevent the bias, but we can recognize its presence. When we understand that personal bias colors everything, we should have one response–the more something confirms our belief, the more we should doubt its accuracy.

See something that proves your opponent wrong? Research it. Don’t blindly believe it. Google it. Seek a more logical explanation. Recognize that life is sometimes grey. Believe there are fair ways to believe differently than you. If there are multiple ways to interpret something, interpret it in the fairest way possible to the other person.

Truth can be found, but it takes work. Normally not much work, but it takes a little more than just believing everything you see or hear.

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A Reminder for Christians

The previous article is true for everyone, but there is a specific reminder Christians need. In the Ten Commandments, God commanded us to tell the truth. Specifically, he warned us against bearing false witness. (See: Stop Breaking the Ninth Commandment on Facebook)

When we share, promote, like, and further things that are not true about others, we are violating the ninth commandment.

Consider the irony: some Christians willfully share false information in order to prove the ungodliness of others and, in so doing, actually choose ungodly behavior for themselves.

Truth matters. Pursue it. Proclaim it. Honor it in every way possible.

Kevin A. Thompson is an author, pastor and speaker. He writes about life, leadership, marriage, and parenting (specifically parenting a child with special needs.) He has published three books: YouTurn, Friends, Partner & Lovers, and Happily. His next book is scheduled to publish in March 2021. To get his bi-weekly email that includes new articles and resources, click here.

48 Responses to Why Can I Go to Wal-Mart and Not Church?
  1. Whitney Reply

    Thank you, Kevin!!!!

  2. Michael Jones Reply

    A COVID-19 cause of death does pay more than other causes. You admit that. The implication is that this causes an inflation of the COVID-19 fatality count. You explain that COVID-19 costs more to treat so, yes, it pays more. As a former medical professional in a hospital setting, I can affirm that reimbursement rates absolutely affect the diagnosis given. You do not dispute this, so your truth about the reason for the higher reimbursement does not change the fact that the higher reimbursement does inflate the COVID-19 fatality count. Your truth does give an alternative explanation for the higher reimbursement to that of a conspiracy to inflate the number of COVID-19 deaths, but it in no way proves that such a conspiracy does not exist. Your truth also does not prove the numbers are reliable in figuring the actual fatality risk. In fact, admitting COVID-19 pays more underlines the suspicion that the number of deaths are inflated.

  3. Maye Hayes Jepson Reply

    Thank you for addressing this issue in such a simple way. I appreciate your ministry so much.

  4. Bryan Reply

    The Constitution cannot be set aside for ANY reason. Most churches did not have a problem switching to virtual services, because it was the smart & right thing to do. But it should not have been forced under ANY circumstances.

    And then there are the churches who have been in trouble for holding “stay in the car services”, proving that this was about more than safety in some areas. We should never, ever give up our rights. And if we do, be prepared for them to be taken away again & again at every scare, until they are litterally gone and church is declared illegal.

    • Pam Rice Reply

      You obviously didn’t read the article, or maybe you thought it was untruthful. Read it and see if you still think your rights have been taken away. Your attitude is part of the problem!

  5. Wendy Hinman Reply

    Thank you! Passing this along because I enjoyed your sweet reasonableness before Covid19 and knew you’d be rational now.

  6. Cherita Weaver Reply

    If only everyone would not only read this but think about! Thank you so much.

  7. Diane Woodard Reply

    All I can say is wow for the truthful spirit you displayed here. I was just thinking today about where so many biases come from and more specifically I was thinking of racism. I acknowledge racism has been apart of our world all of my 57 years on earth, and I strongly suspect there are those that will always conduct racists actions. I think of this recent killing of the young man in Georgia (Aubrey), and how some are shocked for the first time because they saw the video for themselves and how others are still blaming the young man. How many other innocent people have been killed and how many of us believe whatever we are told. The sad truth is that murder is nothing new. What’s new is having on tape and even with evidence its a long hard battle to get justice. We all have to continue to do better and subject ourselves to God’s way. I strongly appreciate your stance about just a simple google, and a desire to want to do right and a desire to seek accuracy. Thank you again for that.

  8. Zoe Hathaway Reply

    Great article. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this information.

  9. Linda Cumbie Reply

    Yes, yes, and Yes!

  10. Carmen Reply

    Thanks, this is a good article, straightforward and kind.

    I was taught that the Church is the people, not the building. Although, of course, a place to gather can be wonderful. I look forward to us becoming closer to one another as we regain our physical, emotional, and financial health.

  11. Jim gill Reply

    points so well taken

  12. Chuck Pitts Reply

    Thank you, Kevin.
    This blog is exactly what I have been trying to tell people, over and over and over and over. It’s so easy to see that this is untrue, or at best misleading, but it gets posted anyway. We must do better when we represent our God with every work and meme. Thanks!

  13. Randy Keen Reply

    Good read!

  14. Carolyn Kreighbaum Reply

    Thank you for this very thoughtful and well written article. Should be required reading!

  15. Amy Lippoldt Reply

    Psst, Erin Brombage is a man. You refer to the professor as “she.”

  16. Phyllis Coate Reply

    Excellent article and it certainly made me consider my own actions and posts. And I am appreciative of that. I only take issue with your example regarding face masks. The CDC recommends face coverings for all in public places (with exceptions for young children and those adversely affected by masks). It doesn’t make a distinction about time as you did. While it’s logical the less time someone is around others, the less the risk, I think the way it’s worded implies it’s contingent on task alone. My understanding is we are being asked to wear masks whenever we are in public.

  17. Anjel Reply

    Well said Kevin. Allow me to add that asserting one’s rights is not a Biblical teaching. If anything, our Biblical model is Christ who emptied himself of his rights and privileges as God’s Son to serve the world. Christians should be less concerned with rights and more concerned with their responsibilities to show love and care for others as they serve the most vulnerable in our society.

  18. M. L. Ramsey Reply

    Thank you for your very deliberate reasoning!

  19. Bob Rogers Reply

    Good thoughts! It’s disheartening how many Christians are throwing around unfounded accusations and turning this pandemic into politics, when most government leaders are doing their best to navigate through a crisis few were prepared to face.

  20. Andrew Jones Reply

    I expected this article to be something else. I was incredibly surprised. Thank you for your calm rational take on an important issue. You are fighting the good fight. The pray for your enemies fight. The love your neighbor even when you might disagree fight. Thank you!

  21. Michele Michaelson Reply

    Thank you, Kevin, for using your power and influence (earned through respectful living and writing) to send this important message.

  22. Shawn Reply

    I have to be honest, your article is shit. It’s trash. You talk about science but then you dont give a lot of that. Since “science” explains your reasoning, please use science to explain how Walmart is safer when people are touching the same items, then possibly putting them back on the shelves. How it’s ok for the cashier to touch all of my items, right after they have touched the items of every other person in front of my. No sanitizer, no changing of gloves…IF they were wearing them. Yeah, that pin pad that I’m using to pay didn’t get cleaned either after all of those people if front of me used it.

    Like I said, your article is basically a load of crap wrapped up in a bow to make people, apparently like yourself, feel they are right on this issue. Newsflash, you’re not.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      The science was in the links I provided.

      • Wade Reply

        What’s the science behind what is deemed “essential business” by the government? I don’t think “science” is the issue. If it was, churches would be allowed to reopen following the same guidelines as business.

        Also, an article leading with “because science” and then offering no science but a bunch of opinions is not helpful except to those who hold your viewpoint. It’s the same confirmation bias you address, but in a different flavor.

        I understand you shared a link but your article feels more like a rant. The link you shared had a lot of data but isn’t settled science. There’s lots still that is unknown.

        Fear of the unknown should not justify governments picking and choosing who gets to stay open and who doesn’t.

  23. Lisa Reply

    Thank you – timely and helpful. Agree that we all must research and be as factual as possible – not sharing inflammatory headlines and proclaiming those as the facts we make important decisions on.

  24. Dave Hawthorne Reply

    Interesting article, but the author’s bias is showing. She is using “science” as a cudgel to only show part of the facts, not as a window to explore new information. Here are some things to consider:
    1 She states: “We can go for nine weeks worshiping online, but we can’t go nine weeks without food.” I disagree. She is only speaking to the physical self, not the whole self. It is for our benefit that God instructs us to “forsake not the gathering of yourselves together”. While the physical body may not die after weeks of spiritual famine, the spirit does suffer.
    2 Walmart is much more dangerous than a church building. She is not considering risk units. A family that has been isolating together can be considered one risk unit regardless of the size of the family. They have shared the same germs. Shoppers have been going out in smaller groups, so the same number of persons at shopping represents a much larger risk pool. And that pool keeps increasing every time someone new walks into the store. Worship services usually have one risk pool for the entire time. Also, I can select my portion of the risk pool in a worship service much more efficiently than at the store where there is so much more movement.
    3 Worship services usually involve a community of believers. We know each other. We have at least some information about most of their background. I can avoid the over the road trucker if I choose. Not so at Walmart. I know nothing about any of where they have been and there is no way to avoid those with higher risk profiles.
    These are just 3 points. But the larger issue is that the author either didn’t do her research completely or just avoided this kind of point out of personal bias.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      She’s a he. I’m the author and a pastor who is dealing with when to reopen our church for in-person worship services. As of this writing, May 31 is the projected date.

  25. Sarah Reply

    This is a really excellent article with a ton of good points. Only one section was concerning to me: “Why don’t these states have shelter-in-place orders? For weeks this was a question asked about my home state. As charts were shown with increasing cases and deaths nationwide, they were contrasted with a map showing the few states who do not have shelter-in-place orders. The point was to shame the careless leaders in these few states. Yet a little research showed that while COVID-19 was rising exponentially in many places, it wasn’t doing so everywhere. As I write, my county has one active case. One, even though my hometown is the second-largest city in Arkansas.” The problem with this point is that we still do not have widespread testing. It’s quite possible that there are more cases in this county that haven’t been logged because we’re doing a tiny fraction of the testing needed to get a sense of accurate numbers. We can’t say whether this statement is right or wrong if we don’t have all the information needed to make an informed decision. I also can’t find a date when this blog was published so I don’t know how early on in the pandemic this statement was made (so it’s imposible to say in retrospect if this statement was accurate at the time of publication). This one is dangerous because until we have enough testing to have accurate numbers we can’t make a blanket statement that precautionary measures are not needed due to those incomplete numbers.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Fair point. My thought is that we’ve had a consistently low positivity rate as well as very low hospitalizations and deaths. Those three stats are probably more telling than the actual number of tests or cases. I kept wanting more testing, yet with a 4% positivity rate it kind of implied we were doing enough.

  26. Steve Hartman Reply

    Well written. Thank you for sharing the insights.

  27. Natalie Reply

    “In nearly every example where someone raises a simple question that seemingly outs the evil intent or intellectual deficiency of someone on the other side of the political aisle, with a little research and discernment, the question can be answered…easily. What seems contradictory actually makes sense.”
    Might you want to re-read your piece about “Stirring the Pot?” I loved your explanation about why Wal-Mart and not church, it makes sense and I haven’t seen that pointed out other places. Clearly I’ve not sourced the same material as you’ve found. I googled it and yours is the top response followed by other opinion pieces and not many of those. I’ve looked and didn’t find that simple explanation anywhere. I don’t pose questions with the intent “to mock or belittle decision makers” nor do I “use a simple question that seemingly outs the evil intent or intellectual deficiency of someone on the other side of the political aisle” I pose questions, personally, because on their face the decisions seem inconsistent. At your first paragraph, my thought was “ahhhhh, that makes sense.” Thanks for that, the information is helpful. But upon further reading, you imply we shouldn’t ask. Why not. If I hadn’t asked I likely wouldn’t have read your piece. Wouldn’t it just be kinder and more effective to post the reasons instead of belittling others which is exactly what you correctly speak against in your piece in “Stirring the Pot?” Or are you doing exactly what you speak against, belittling someone who asks an honest question to get them to just shut up? Your use of the 9th commandment is absolutely spot on and thanks for that too. In additiona to that wisdom, these also seem applicable to this type of conversations: Romans 12:10; Phil 2:3 and Galations 5:19-23.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I never meant to imply we shouldn’t ask well-intended questions with the true intention of seeking answers. That is always good. My frustration with many of the questions posed on FB is that they aren’t sincerely seeking an answer because they think the answer is obvious.

  28. Gayle Reply

    Kevin, for me, going to church and receiving the sacraments (which cannot be done online) is as important as food.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Gayle, that is understandable. To me, this is a great season to receive a deeper understanding of many of the Psalms as the writer longed for Jerusalem. It helps us understand life in Egypt for the Israelites or the Exile as they longed for home.

  29. Debbie Reply

    It is so good to see an article like this. Thank you.

  30. Judy Huber Reply

    Thank you, Kevin, very enlightening.

  31. Kellye Reply

    So well written. Thank you!

  32. janice sonderland Reply

    misrepresentation is bearing false witness.

  33. John P. Reply

    Great article with easy-to-understand explanations!! Thank you for taking the time to write this!

  34. David Beard Reply

    Nicely done.

  35. Keith Duff Reply

    Amen, brother. Thanks for your encouragement and admonishment!

  36. Allen Reply

    Kevin, I appreciate your article, but respectfully, your conclusions are incorrect and based on incomplete information.

    Looking at Walmart, we need to consider those who work there. In the pharmacy department, 3 or 4 people work for a 6 or 8 hour shift in a small semi-confined space. If this is not a problem, then a group of people meeting in a church building for 1 hour should not be a problem.

    Limits have been placed (at least in some places) on the number of shoppers that can be in a store at any one time. Shoppers are encouraged to practice “social distancing.” If 1200 people (the COVID limit at my local Walmart) can safely meet as long as they practice social distancing, then those same people should be able to meet at a church following the same practices. You opened your article with an appeal to science. Science (or more precisely people with some connection to one of the sciences) have told us social distancing works. If it works at Walmart, then it also works in a church building.

    But beyond the technical details is a deeper issue, and that is one of the government determining which businesses are “essential” and which ones are not. Our form of government accords to government leaders no such power. And we have certainly gone beyond any short term emergency that would necessitate emergency actions. These determinations of which businesses and societal functions are essential and which ones aren’t have not been made by those we elect to represent us.

    As for the rest, I’ll leave it to you to explain to God why His Body (the Church) is non-essential. I just ask you to think about it.

    • J. Parker Reply

      “In the pharmacy department, 3 or 4 people work for a 6 or 8 hour shift in a small semi-confined space. If this is not a problem, then a group of people meeting in a church building for 1 hour should not be a problem.” Actually, it is a problem. Looking at a sample of 8,000 people, it was determined that: “If you’re a supermarket client, your chance of getting infected is 0.02%…whereas if you are a supermarket employee, because you’re exposed multiple times, your risk of getting infected might be 9%” (Muge Cevik, infectious disease specialist at the University of St. Andrews in the UK). So passing someone in the aisle isn’t likely a big issue, but customers should at least wear masks at checkout to protect staff.

  37. Gene M Bridges Reply

    You wrote that directives from Government to close churches was not an attack on religious liberty.

    How so? Does the Bible give Governments that right?

    Do State Constitutions? No, they do not. Here is NC’s:

    Section 13 of the NC Declaration of Rights is clear:

    All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.

    There is no moral right to freedom from viral infection. There is no biblical right for Governments to use the power of the keys.

  38. J. Parker Reply

    Well done, Kevin! And I’d also say that we have to be willing to adapt our practices to scientific understanding as it unfolds. We once thought the coronavirus might be passed along on surfaces, but as we gathered more data, we discovered that’s not how it tends to spread, but rather through sustained contact with those who have the virus. And so far, it seems about 43% of people who have coronavirus are asymptomatic, so not having symptoms doesn’t meant you can’t pass it on.

    As for those commenters concerned about religious liberty being at risk, it is at risk IF churches are specifically targeted. But they’re not really. Certain governmental authorities also shut down sports, parties, conventions, concerts, etc. Basically, gatherings of more than 50 have been halted in many areas, and that includes churches. Which doesn’t make it a specific attack on religious liberty, but rather a public health concern over crowds.

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